13 January 2022
Mental wellbeing should be for life not just on Blue Monday
What can leaders do in 2022 to support a mentally healthy workforce?
The third Monday of January has been coined as being the most depressing day of the year and has been given the rather dreary title of ‘Blue Monday’. Supposedly, a university professor and psychologist came up with a formula to calculate the day, taking into account a number of factors such as post-Christmas blues, cold dark nights, failure of our new year’s resolution and credit card debts to predict the day on which we are all most likely to be down in the dumps.
Now whether you believe in the theory of Blue Monday or not, what is true is that the holidays can be a highly stressful time for many people and getting back into the swing of work in the new year can prove to be challenging. Christmas can come with a lot of pressure such as trying to find the perfect gift, strained family gatherings, media bombardment of perfect happy holidays and financial pressures not to mention the impact of the global pandemic on our physical and mental health. It has certainly been a challenging couple of years and we are not out of the woods yet..
However, one of the positive things that has come out recent challenges is that now, more than ever, there is a global consciousness and awareness of the importance of our physical and mental wellbeing. Employers have realised that having a mentally happy healthy workforce builds business resiliency which ultimately allows businesses to weather the storm of uncertainty and change. What is the number one asset of your business? Your people. Numerous research has proved that when you have healthy, happy people at work, your organisation or business is much more successful and effective. As a leader you should prioritise mental health and wellbeing as a top priority within your business
Supporting colleagues and employees with their mental health starts with the seemingly simple act of asking someone how they are doing in an authentic and warm way, signalling to them that you are coming from a sincere place. Leaders play a crucial role in creating a work environment which is safe and comfortable for people to express their feelings about the state of their mental health. As a leader of course you are focused on getting the best results for your business but those results are going to come from your people being in the best state of mind that they can be. so now more than ever you cannot afford to ignore employee wellbeing and mental health.
The stigma attached to mental health is still very much prevalent and although more awareness does exist, it is important for leaders to understand that employees may find it difficult to talk about their mental health with even their own family and loved ones and so talking about their mental health at work with colleagues or their manager can be even more challenging. Conversations around bereavements, breakups and other life events that may be impacting an employee’s mental health and performance at work are difficult conversations, however when conducted properly they can mean a lot to the person who is struggling and go a long way towards making them feel more comfortable about their work.
So what are some of the practical things can leaders do to better support the mental health of their employees in 2022 and beyond?
1. Value mental health and wellbeing as a top priority
Commit to developing and implementing mental health at work policies that are relevant and inclusive of all employees. Make sure there is buy-in at levels around the importance of mental health. Senior leadership middle managers should walk the talk as these leaders through their actions and words can create a healthy culture that promotes positive mental health and wellbeing at work. Keep reviewing and measuring the impact of your workplace policies around staff mental health, promote what works and be open to change what isn’t working. Your business could also support national and local initiatives around mental health, which all adds to developing a workplace culture in which it is easier to speak and be open about mental health and lessens the stigma.
2. Make time
As leaders we all have busy schedules and never-ending to do lists but there is a time and place for everything. We have all probably experienced that feeling of wanting to speak to someone about something that is personally very important to us and the other person just seems to be distracted or in a rush, it is not a nice feeling! Make sure that you have scheduled an appropriate time and place, where you are not going to be distracted by your phone or other notifications popping up and you are able to give the other person your undivided attention.
3. Practice active listening
You know when you are talking to someone and they haven’t heard a word you have said, they are away with the fairies or they are simply waiting for you to stop speaking so that can say what their piece, this can be very disengaging. As a leader you should practice active listening. Give the other person the appropriate amount of eye contact, showing through your body language such as nods and hand gestures that you have understood and empathise with what is being said. At appropriate times during the conversation you should acknowledge what has been said, you can do this by repeating back what has been said to check that you have understood correctly and to ask the appropriate clarifying questions if needed. As a leader when you actively listen to your employees that in itself can have a positive impact on the wellbeing of the employee, sometimes people just want to be heard.
4. Don’t judge, don’t try to fix
When somebody comes to you with their problems it can be tempting to start to offer solutions to try to fix the situation. As a leader of course you want to offer reassurance and encouragement to the other person but do so with sensitivity and awareness. Sometimes our own judgements can creep into our conversations and we look at things through our own lens and the way we might respond in a certain situation but remember you are not the other person and the other person is not you! Try to not judge the situation and be aware that the other person may just need space to vent what is happening to them rather than be seeking solutions. However, they may welcome helpful suggestions once they feel they have been listened to.
5. Check in regularly
As a leader it is important that you check in with employees and colleagues formally and informally to find out how they are getting along and if they require any further support. Never make assumptions about the state of somebody’s mental health, often people can seem fine on the surface but could be suffering from poor mental health which if remained unchecked can eventually bubble to the surface and impact their work.
6. Support on-going training and education
Often managers do not have the appropriate skillset to deal effectively with employees who may be experiencing mental health challenges, despite a greater awareness in recent years around mental health, there still exists a lot of misinformation and prejudice. It is important that line managers and senior leadership go through the appropriate training around mental health awareness and how to be more empathic compassionate and effective managers when dealing with people with mental health challenges.
7. Provide professional support
Developing mental health champions or mental health first aiders within your business can be highly effective especially if those champions are leaders or managers that have themselves experienced issues and are willing to be open about them as they are likely to have a greater empathy and understanding of mental heath. These champions could be a unique asset to your organisation. Keep in mind also that you are not required and no one is expecting you to take the place of a mental health professional. At times an employee’s mental health challenges will require more than just support within the workplace and will require the help of medical professionals such as psychologists, counsellors, psychiatrists, therapists etc. You should endeavour to make accessing professional support around mental health for your employees as simple and easy as possible.